The IRS recently announced the 2021 federal estate tax rate limits, which are $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. This is increased from $11.58 million and $23.16 million respectively in 2020.

Under this new guidance, wealthy Americans will be able to leave up to $23.4 million to their heirs without being subject to federal estate tax rates, which top out at 40%. The federal gift tax exemption will remain at $15,000 annually, meaning gifts made up to that amount will not be taxed by the federal government.

Will There Be Changes Under the Biden Administration?

While estate tax rates have stayed fairly consistent over the past few years, estate planning attorneys across the country are being asked by their clients how the presidential election may affect future federal tax limits.

During the campaign season, the Biden/Harris team proposed reducing the estate tax exemption to $3.5 million for estates and $1 million for gifts. The ability to pass such measures, however, appears to be a long shot, considering the current makeup of the Senate. The Democratic party now holds a very slim majority and lowering the estate tax threshold is not particularly popular on the Republican side. It would be difficult, if not impossible, at this point to get a majority of Senators to agree to such legislation.

Complicating matters further is the coronavirus pandemic. It’s anticipated that Congress will spend the next few months working on financial relief packages for individuals and businesses impacted by COVID-19. As such, major overhauls to the estate tax are anticipated to take a backseat in 20201 in favor of more pressing matters.

However, when it comes to the whims of Congress, estate planning lawyers “never say never.” That’s why we are continuing to keep a watchful eye on Congress should support begin to emerge for estate tax reform in 2021 and beyond. For real-time updates, be sure to follow our estate planning blog, or subscribe to our newsletter. Finally, if you have specific questions about the federal estate tax or how to avoid “death taxes” on your estate when you are gone, please contact us at (949) 260-1400 to schedule an appointment.